Wondering how to raise resilient kids? We asked three experts to share their top tips (#5 is inspired)

Resilience isn't when a kid 'doesn't give up' we share the true meaning...

A group of resilient children
(Image credit: Getty Images)

While we might not want them to, your kids will face challenges in childhood, and having resilience in their toolkit will help them. Just so you know, you're not alone if you want to nurture resilience but aren't sure where to start. We ask psychotherapists to share their tips on how to raise and recognise resilient children.

As part of the parenting minefield, aligning with parenting styles that help raise successful children who overcome challenge, is just one of the many decisions parents will make. An old Swedish secret is said to be the place to start when building happy and resilient kids, but there's an abundance of information out there on the subject - it's no surprise parents don't know where to start. 

Amanda Macdonald is an experienced BACP registered psychotherapist, who works with both adults and children. She told us "Resilience isn’t about pretending that something isn’t hard. Instead, it is about being able to acknowledge how something feels and being able to keep going through it. Let your child know that you believe in them and allow them the chance to experience age-appropriate setbacks. As a parent, it can be tempting to want to step in, but this doesn’t enable the child to learn that setbacks are normal, and that they can work through it."

This article will offer tips from Amanda Macdonald, BACP registered counsellor and parenting expert Jenny Warwick, and former Primary School Deputy Headteacher, Lauren Brown. Our experts give guidance on raising resilient kids, and share 15 signs to look out for, that your child is already showing resilience. We will signpost parents to further experts in the field, and places to get more information on shaping resilience in children.  

How to raise resilient kids: 8 expert-backed tips

1. Build trusting relationships

Lauren Brown is a former Primary School Deputy Headteacher, who now runs the multi award winning Busy Brains Activity Packs. As a child development expert, Lauren shared with us "One of the most important ways to build resilience in children is by focusing on building strong, trusting relationships. When children have at least one stable, supportive parent, caregiver, or other adult, they are more likely to take risks, step outside their comfort zone and manage stress because they know that this person will be there to support them."

If you're wondering how to go about doing this, Lauren had some great ideas. She suggested "Parents can help develop this bond by spending regular one-to-one time with them, without the distraction of phones or work. Play games, complete activities, or exercise together so that they can see you solving problems, overcoming difficulties, and trying new things. They will learn from your behaviour, by spending this time together building your bond."

2. Open communication

Research suggests positive communication in families provides the foundation for arming children with skills to cope with stressors and recover unexpected challenges. Parent–child communication is particularly is particularly important when it comes to modelling responses to stressful circumstances. Supportive, instructive, and responsive communication bolsters resilience, while it was found that controlling or dismissive communication methods encouraged children to be volatile or impulsive when faced with adversity.  

"Resilience isn’t about pretending that something isn’t hard. Instead, it is about being able to acknowledge how something feels and being able to keep going through it."

Amanda MacDonald

Counsellor and parenting expert Jenny Warwick, told us that maintaining open communication is crucial to fostering an environment where your child will be comfortable to express their thoughts and feelings without fear of being judged. Her opinion was "Communication helps children develop the foundation of resilience. Once a dialogue is opened, parents can more easily teach children problem-solving skills and the ability to analyse challenges." 

Lauren suggests playing the game 'Fortunately, Unfortunately' with your kids, as a fun way to adopt good communication. The child says 'unfortunately…' followed by something that did not work out that day, and the parent says 'but fortunately… and finds a positive outcome that came from it. Lauren concluded "While it is not always possible, it can lead to some amusing dinnertime conversations!" 

3. Avoid solving their problems

We understand, this is a tough one. However, while shielding children from setbacks comes naturally as a parent, it can actually be counterintuitive if you're trying to build resilience - experiencing difficulties is a normal part of each developmental stage. Lauren told us "Avoid solving all their problems. When children encounter a problem, it can be easy to jump in and solve it for them but this does not allow them to find a way to overcome this problem for themselves."

She added "Without feeling the discomfort of finding something difficult, you also do not get the satisfaction of finding a solution. A certain amount of stress is needed to learn and grow." Amanda Macdonald weighed in on this too, saying "Over time, as a child grows, and as they start school and spend more time away from their attachment figures, a child is required to learn how to manage setbacks without a parent or carer always being there to step in, offer reassurance, and put things right."

Mum-of-three, Lou, told us trying not to solve every problem for her kids has been hard, but has worked wonders for them. She shared with us "I am quite overprotective, and enjoyed the fact the kids came to me with their problems. But instead of helping them work through issues themselves, I was sorting everything out for them. When doing this for all three, it quickly became overwhelming. Taking a step back and starting the process of letting the kids tentatively start working out their own solutions was hard for me, but ultimately the best thing for all of us."

4. Solve problems together

You don't want to solve kids' problems for them, but there's nothing to stop you solving them together as a team - this is something Lauren sees a strong positive. Her opinion was "If your child comes to you wanting you to fix something, try to help them find the solution for themselves by giving them your full attention, looking at the problem together and then posing a question that will lead them to try a new approach for themselves. Teaching problem solving skills will help them have the confidence to have a go on their own in future." 

Amanda added "As children grow into adolescence and adulthood, they learn that their parents can’t solve everything. So by having experienced smaller obstacles and solved them with parental guidance, they have the resources within them to keep going through difficult times and can reduce the feelings of anxiety that can come when they face bigger challenges." 

A group of resilient children

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Jenny concluded "Frame their mistakes as valuable lessons rather than failures. By allowing them to shift their mindset, they will see challenges as opportunities to learn and grow, increasing their resilience in the face of setbacks."

Mum-of-two, Veronique, told us "We started the process of teamwork problem-solving by brainstorming solutions together. Gradually, I stepped back and let the children choose which one they thought would work best - this was hard at first. They'd try out solutions and come back to me with what worked and what didn't. Eventually, I stepped away from the brainstorming and let them do it themselves, as well as letting them pick a trial solution. It really didn't take long before they needed my help much less frequently, and I'm in awe of how easily they gained the confidence and resilience to overcome challenges."

5. Be open about your own challenges

Kids learn by example, and being honest about your own challenges can teach them how to overcome their own. Amanda said "By demonstrating how you manage resilience by letting your child know when you have made a mistake, and allowing your child to see how you manage a setback is a great lesson in resilience. Share with your child how you feel about it, in an age-appropriate way, and let them be aware that you may experience disappointment or hurt, but that you can keep on going." 

Jenny added that open communication about challenges you've faced, is all part of maintaining connection and collaborative problem-solving. She told us that regularly breaking down your own problems with kids into manageable steps, helps them establish strong routines in doing this themselves for life, adding "This cultivates a proactive way to overcome obstacles. It's also essential to show them how to manage stress constructively and establish a routine that includes taking breaks to manage the build-up of stressors."

Mum-of-three, Alys, told us she was the master of keeping her own disappointments from her children. "There was a job I was desperate to get, and thought the interview had gone really well," she tod us. "I was so upset when I didn't get it, which became obvious to my eldest daughter. When she first asked me if I was sad about it, I told her I wasn't at all. I then realised she needs to learn about disappointment, and told her, actually, I am disappointed by this outcome.

The company shared some useful feedback about why I wasn't offered the role, and I shared this with my daughter. I felt really empowered to model to her that setbacks will come at all stages of life, and the importance of teaching her life can be tough. I'm now a lot more determined to be more open about things that upset me, because hiding this from my kids doesn't achieve anything and was potentially negatively impacting how they handle their own disappointments."

6. Teach kids about risk-taking

Lauren feels very strongly that talking your kids through different types of risk-taking, will add to their resilience levels. "Psychologists tell us that we need to recognise and understand the difference between dangerous risk-taking and healthy risk-taking so that we can model and teach this to our children," she told us. 

Lauren added "As adults, approaching new activities or situations with a, 'What's the worst that can happen?' attitude, can help our children recognise that having a go often ends well. An example could include having a go on the biggest slide at the park or trying a new food. When we try something new, we are embracing challenges rather than internalising the feeling that we are not able to do something new."

7. Let children label their emotions

Helping kids to understand their emotions is a step towards facilitating acceptance of them. Lauren suggests that letting kids label their emotions models a positive strategy for managing emotional expression. She said "When faced with a stressful situation or problem, teaching children to label their emotions can help them to understand the physical sensations they are experiencing."

She continued "It also helps them to know that you understand how they feel and, by remaining calm yourself and demonstrating coping skills such as deep breathing or taking a break, you help them to self regulate." This is research backed, with studies concluding that resilience increases the ability to regulate emotions by enhancing self-esteem, and preparing young people to face life experiences. 

8. Embrace the magic of outdoors

Lauren is a strong advocate of getting outside, or in the water, to help foster resilience in kids. She shared "When faced with stress, research tells us being outdoors in nature helps the body reset, the mind feels calm and your mood improve. If going outdoors is not an option, my go-to solution is always 'just add water!' take a bath, have a shower, pour a cold drink, set up an activity playing with water, it is never failed to reset everyone’s mood!"

Mum-of-two, Jess, completely agrees with the notion of getting outside. She said "I've taken the kids outside in all winds and weathers, right from day one. As they got older, sometimes we'd be the only ones in the park in the pouring rain, and the neighbours thought we were mad sliding down our homemade slipping slide in the middle of winter. But now, my children love hiking holidays and have learned lots of important survival skills. I didn't always see this directly as resilience, but now I can see my little ones really have gained plenty of resilient skills from their all-weather experiences."  

15 signs your child is resilient

You've put the work into building resilience in your child, but now you're uncertain what a resilient child actually looks like. Amanda, Jenny and Lauren have shared their expertise on what to look out for, to know when your little one is demonstrating their resilience skills. 

  1. They know when to say no, and have a clear sense of their own boundaries.
  2. Demonstrating an awareness of their own emotions and feelings.
  3. Developing a sense of empathy, and understanding what other people may be feeling.
  4. Easily being able to ask for help when it is needed.
  5. They practice self-care – Amanda said "Just like adults, children need to learn to recognise what can help them to relax, which may be hanging out with the family pet, or playing their favourite sport. Having a family that supports each other to be able to all have time for self-care allows every family member to be restored and refreshed."
  6. Becoming adaptable, with resilient children sometimes demonstrating adaptability more quickly than adults, as they are often more open to new experiences.
  7. Positive problem-solving when faced with challenges - your child approaches them constructively by looking for solutions rather than focusing on problems.
  8. They get more creative, as resilient children may lean towards creative problem-solving, while adults might draw on past experiences.
  9. An increase in effective communication - Jenny told us "Children who are comfortable expressing emotions and thoughts openly show healthy communication skills with their peers and adults. Adults, on the other hand, may have developed more nuanced communication styles."
  10. They self-regulate with increased ease. Jenny added "Children who manage their emotions effectively can stay calm under pressure. However, resilient children's emotional regulation may still be developing, while adults might have more refined coping mechanisms."
  11. They're more likely to seek support. Jenny shared "A resilient child seeks help when needed, be it from parents, teachers, or friends. Resilient children may rely more on their support network, whereas adults balance independence with seeking assistance."
  12. They approach new tasks with a positive 'can-do' attitude.
  13. An improved ability to not be afraid to get things wrong, and when things go wrong, they try again, reflecting on what went wrong.
  14. They recognise that they are not alone and that others find things hard sometimes too.
  15. You will notice your child recognising and managing their emotions when things go wrong, and they can identify their strengths and easily accept changes. 

Amanda was keen to point out "The signs of resilience may not always be apparent all the time, so it can be about catching them when they happen. When a parent does notice signs of resilience, let that child know that you noticed how great they are doing at stating their boundaries, or how well they were able to share how they are feeling."

Lauren pointed out that resilience can look different in adults than it does in children, which is important when distinguishing what a resilient child looks like. She said "While adults’ approach new situations with the knowledge and experience of the past, children are often coming at them for the first time and so look to us for guidance. 

A resilient child can bounce back from adversity and try again knowing they have got our support and love as well as their new knowledge and skills. Adults must understand that being resilient does not mean that you cannot feel or show your emotions, it means you can process them and then find a way to move forward."

Additional support

Lauren shared her top resources with us, for getting extra help with building resilience in your children. She suggested:

  1. Learning to Learn skills have become popular in schools with many buying into schemes such as the Campaign for Learning’s 5Rs (Readiness, Resourcefulness, Resilience, Remembering and Reflection). Their website features many useful resources for parents.
  2. National Centre for Family Learning, also has parent resources relating to resilience.
  3. Family Lives provides a wealth of free support for families including online courses, articles, and helplines.
  4. The Centre of the Developing Child at Harvard University podcast is also helpful for parents with young children. It discusses the importance of play and how it shapes our brain architecture for life.

Parenting podcasts to try

  1. The Resilient Kid podcast - Psychotherapist and mum-of-two Ashley Costello, aka The Resilient Kid, has a fortnightly podcast covering everything you need to encourage resilience.
  2. Parenting Beyond Discipline - Erin Royer, MA Psy. has an episode of her podcast dedicated to fostering resilience.
  3. Resilient Little Hearts - An Instagram account from Laura, who has a Masters in Educational Psychology, empowering parents to cultivate resilience and emotional health in children.
  4. Parenting resilience - An Instagram account from psychotherapist and play therapist, Carol, giving concrete tips and thoughts to boost resilience in children and in ourselves.

Our panel of experts

BACP therapist Amanda Macdonald
Amanda Macdonald

Amanda Macdonald is an experienced psychotherapist, counsellor, and member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. Amanda helps adults and children manage and overcome life’s hurdles – including relationship, stress, and confidence issues.

BACP counsellor and parenting expert Jenny Warwick
Jenny Warwick

Jenny Warwick is a BACP registered counsellor and parenting expert. She is an online counsellor specialising in helping parents and carers manage the distinct challenges of their child's tween and teenage years. Her approach involves providing personalised support to help individuals balance their work, home, and family responsibilities, promote emotional health, and develop stronger connections with their children. 

Child Development expert Lauren Brown
Lauren Brown

Lauren Brown is founder of the multi award winning, Busy Brains Activity Packs, dedicated to creating play-based activities for babies, toddlers and children. She is a former Primary School Deputy Headteacher and child development expert.

If you're wondering how to teach kids emotional intelligence, we've got this covered. We can also offer expert advice on children's mental health, and how to start talking about mental health with your little ones.

Lucy Wigley
Parenting writer - contributing

Lucy is a mum-of-two, multi-award nominated writer and blogger with six years’ of experience writing about parenting, family life, and TV. Lucy has contributed content to PopSugar and moms.com. In the last three years, she has transformed her passion for streaming countless hours of television into specialising in entertainment writing. There is now nothing she loves more than watching the best shows on television and sharing why you - and your kids - should watch them.